Career & Success

Heidi Roizen: “Today Everything Is Relationship-Driven”

Master networker Heidi Roizen on what has changed — and what hasn’t — about professional networking in the era of social media.

June 11, 2014

| by Loren Mooney


Heidi Roizen | Aaron Wojack

If you don’t know Heidi Roizen personally, and many people do, you might know her from the popular 2000 Harvard Business School case “Heidi Roizen,” about how to effectively build, maintain, and tap a professional network. In the case, Roizen highlights three key elements of successful networking: access to the right people, your performance in and after the interaction, and your consistency over time. She has used these elements in every role she’s had — early tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, Apple executive, corporate director, and now operating partner at venture firm DFJ.

We recently asked her what has changed — and just as important, what hasn’t — about how she networks in the age of social media. Here’s her best advice.

1. Use social media to help speed connections …

I follow a lot of people on social media and read their material. It’s really terrific that people have these platforms now, and you can go find them and develop an understanding of a person based on what they’re willing to put out there publicly. In fact, I started a blog recently — in part because, when you’re a venture capitalist, you live and die by the quality of the people attracted to you and seeking capital from you. And I think the more you put yourself out there in social media, really defining what’s important to you, the more you end up attracting the kind of entrepreneurs who resonate with your thinking.

2. … but don’t confuse social media connections with actual intimacy.

Just because someone connects with you on LinkedIn doesn’t mean they’re your friend. Social media creates a false sense of intimacy, particularly when people choose to expose a lot about themselves. Social media has allowed us to have broader relationships, but at the end of the day, human relationships haven’t changed — we haven’t increased a human being’s capacity to have close associations with a lot more people.

And everyone has to set their own limits about how accessible they will be. For example, I get a lot of requests to make LinkedIn connections, and if I know both sides of the equation, or I feel like it’s a reasonable request — somebody has a job opening, somebody else is looking for a job — I will probably send it. But if somebody is trying to use two steps: “Dear Heidi, will you please send this to someone you know who knows the person I’m trying to reach?” I just refuse all of those. Because I’m not going to ask my network to do things on my behalf when I’m not a party to the equation.

3. Build relationships based on giving.

There’s a great book called Give and Take, and it talks about the givers — people who will do a favor with no expectation in return. At the end of the day, being a giver is a good thing, not just personally, but there’s research that shows that the most successful networkers and the most successful people are givers. In essence, you’re building up human capital in the capital bank, not necessarily knowing how you’re going to spend it.

4. For broad exposure, serve your industry.

Trade associations are a lot of work and you don’t get paid to do them, but participating in them can amplify your presence in your industry beyond the scope of your company. Not only will you meet other leaders, but you’ll also have a shared endeavor. And one of the best ways to build relationships is through a shared endeavor.

5. Embrace the power of weak ties.

I do think that technology has increased our ability to maintain weak ties with people, and that has value. There’s a lot of research and writing about weak links being potentially more powerful than strong ones. And I’m a big believer in that. Because of technology and social media, in less than a minute I can find someone I haven’t been in touch with for 10 or 15 years, look at LinkedIn and see what they’re up to, and be able to reestablish that link in a more efficient and meaningful way. And by the same token, sometimes you can rule them out just as efficiently, take a look and say, “Oh, they’re clearly not interested in this thing anymore.”

6. If you can’t find the win-win, maybe you shouldn’t ask the favor.

Personally, I feel uncomfortable reaching out to someone I don’t know well [and] asking a favor when the benefit is to me and not to them. That said, I think sometimes you can build a relationship with someone you don’t know around a genuine ask if there’s a win-win. For example, sometimes I reach out to people I don’t know when I think that they should be contacted by a journalist, and I think it would be a good win-win, or when I know a quality person who is looking for a job and the company has an opening. But I think if you’re at a point when you’re trying to build a relationship because you already want something, you’ve already sort of screwed up.

7. People can only drink so much coffee.

When I ask a favor, I think, 'How can I make this so easy that they won’t mind doing it?'
Heidi Roizen

I get asked for favors by people I don’t know all day long. Most often, it’s “I heard you speak, I’m at a juncture in my career, I’d really like to buy you a coffee and sit down with you.” Well, I get probably 10 of these a day, which makes it impossible for me to do.

If that person were to think about my day instead, maybe what they’d say is: “I’d like five minutes of your time. Here’s my résumé, and I have two questions to ask you — here are my questions.” I’m more likely to say yes to that, even for someone I don’t know, just because they’ve packaged it in a way that allows me to be efficiently helpful. When I ask a favor, I think, “How can I make this so easy that they won’t mind doing it?”

8. If you want people to think of you for opportunities, help them connect the dots about you.

Do not believe, just because you’ve been around a long time and everyone knows who you are, that you don’t still have to do the homework to let your network know about you.

Several years ago, when I was at a point that I wanted to be considered for board of director positions, I sat down and, over the course of eight hours, wrote 150-something individual e-mails to everyone I knew well enough who was on a board, in service of a board, or a C-level executive: “Here I am; here are my board qualifications; here’s a link to my website that explains more about my board service. If you think I would be an appropriate candidate for a board that you work with, please let me know.” That night at a party I ran into someone on the TiVo board, and he said, “I’m so glad you reached out, because I’ve got an opportunity for you.” Even though he already knew me, my request and refresher helped him think of me for this board, which I ended up joining.

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